Carlos Alberto Montaner, a writer who escaped Cuba shortly after its Communist revolution, then built a career as one of the exile community’s leading opponents of the Castro regime, died on June 29 at his home in Madrid. He was 80.
His son, Carlos, confirmed the death, from euthanasia. Mr. Montaner had been suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disease similar to Parkinson’s.
In a column published four days after his death, Mr. Montaner praised Spain for making it legal to end one’s life in cases of terminal illness like his. “I fulfill my wish to die in Madrid,” he wrote. “I do so while still enjoying the ability to express my will.”
Throughout his career as a novelist, essayist and political commentator, Mr. Montaner developed a reputation as a fierce critic of the Castro government and defender of classical liberalism.
“He was someone who was able to articulate the hopes, aspirations, frustrations and views of Cuban exiles better than anyone,” Ricardo Herrero, the executive director of the nonprofit Cuba Study Group, said in a phone interview.
Though Mr. Montaner considered himself slightly left of the political center, he was embraced by anti-Communist conservatives in the United States and Europe. Like them, he saw the situation in Cuba as part of a global conflict between dictatorships and liberal democracies.
“We need to tell the international community and democratic countries that we all share a moral responsibility with those countries and societies that suffer the consequences of totalitarianism,” he said in a 2011 interview with the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Mr. Montaner wrote frequently for conservative opinion pages like that of The Wall Street Journal, and he was a close friend of like-minded Latin American intellectuals, among them the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. He was a commentator for CNN en Español and a regular contributor to The Miami Herald.
He drew frequent criticism from Cuban exiles further to his right, especially in 2020, when he endorsed Joe Biden for president and recorded a Spanish-language advertisement pushing back on the accusation, common in the Cuban American community, that Mr. Biden was a socialist.
Mr. Montaner was equally disliked by the far left. The Castro government had long accused him of being a tool of the C.I.A., a charge repeated by left-wing critics.
Mr. Montaner wrote more than 25 books, including five novels and a 2019 memoir, “Sin Ir Más Lejos,” published in English that year as “Without Going Further.”
In novels like “Perromundo” (1972), translated as “Dog World,” he often dealt with themes of exile and the existential choices faced by people caught in the web of totalitarian oppression. His nonfiction work outlined a counternarrative to the traditional Latin American leftist vision of a region under the imperial thumb of the United States.
One of his best-known books is “Manual del Perfecto Idiota Latinoamericano,” which he wrote in 1996 with Alvaro Vargas Llosa (the eldest son of Mario Vargas Llosa) and Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza. It was published in English in 2000 as “Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot.”
“The perfect idiot,” the trio wrote, “leaves us in third world poverty and backwardness with his vast catalog of dogmas presented as truths.”
Carlos Alberto Montaner Suris was born in Havana on April 3, 1943. His father, Ernesto, was a journalist; his mother, Manola (Suris) Montaner, was a teacher.
When Fidel Castro led the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista government in 1959, Carlos was initially an adamant supporter. But he soon turned against the Communists and joined a group of anti-Castro rebels.
He was arrested in 1960. Because he was 17, the government placed him in a juvenile prison, from which he escaped in early 1961.
He fled to the Honduran Embassy, where he remained for months, along with some 125 other dissidents. Finally, in September 1961, he got on a plane and made his way to Miami.
Mr. Montaner studied Hispanic American literature at the University of Miami. After graduating in 1963, he taught American literature at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
He moved to Madrid in 1970, and in 1972 founded a publishing house, Editorial Playor. He kept his home in Spain but returned to Miami frequently and for long stretches of time, especially as his career as a political commentator took off.
Mr. Montaner was no bomb thrower, which made an incident in 1990 stand out. Appearing on a Univision news program, he asserted that one explanation for poverty among Puerto Ricans in the United States was that there were “thousands of single mothers” who “try to escape poverty through welfare.”
More than a dozen Puerto Rican groups called for Univision to drop Mr. Montaner, even after he apologized. The network stuck with him, but El Diario, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, canceled his column.
He married Linda Periut in 1959, and she survives him. Along with her and his son, he is also survived by his daughter, Gina; his brother, Ernesto; and three granddaughters.
Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s primary supporter, in 1991 and Castro’s death in 2016 failed to dislodge the country’s Communist government, Mr. Montaner continued to be optimistic about a democratic transition on the island.
At the same time, he recognized that his decades of optimism had left him emotionally homeless, having failed to put down roots in Miami or Madrid in expectation of an imminent return to Havana.
“Don’t do what I did,” he said in a 2020 interview with the website PanAm Post. “For the longing to want to return to my country, for the certainty that my return was imminent, I never sought to adapt to the countries in which I lived.”